Ferpècle Valley Walk (no. 7 of many available)

Today, Jude, Angela (Jude’s mum) and I went for a short walk up the Ferpècle valley.  Eventually the path comes to a dead end, with the mountains and glaciers rising up at the end towards the border between Switzerland and Italy.  As with the rest of the northern hemisphere, it’s looking very autumnal at this time of year, though we did see some new green leaves and some tadpoles. (See pics below).  We were also very surprised to hear and then see four icefalls.  We’ve observed these in the summer when the temperatures were very high, but today it was nearer the freezing point.

To give you an idea of where this is in the world, I’ve added a map at the end to show the relative position of the walk to our home here in Evolène (which, for new readers, is in the Valais region of Switzerland).

Ascona-Locarno Marathon – Result

My pre-race nerves turned into excitement when I realised that there were only 6 runners registered in my over 60 category, especially given that prizes were going to be awarded to the first 3 finishers.  I couldn’t, could I…?   It was certainly another incentive to keep going when the going got tough.  (I memorised all 5 numbers of the other runners and was anxiously looking for them throughout the race, as the route doubled back on itself.  I spotted one in front and one behind me, but I’m getting ahead of myself…)

Our journey to Locarno would take us over the normally picturesque Simplon Pass, but due to the rain and low cloud, I have no pictures to share with you I’m afraid.  From there we’d drive through part of Italy and back into Switzerland.  The weather improved as we neared Lake Maggiore, so we spent a little time in Ascona before checking into our hotel in the centre of Locarno – only about 200 metres from the start/finish of the race.

The forecast for Sunday, (Race day), was for blue skies and up to 20 degrees C (68 F), which is great for spectators, but not so good for runners.  It also became apparent that there would only be distance markers at each 5k (3.1 mile) point.  This was really bad news.  As I’ve mentioned before, pacing is everything in a marathon and to only find out every 5k how you’ve been getting on isn’t ideal.  Not only that, but I’ve always liked running with kilometre markers, as they tend to come thick and fast – at least at the start of the race.  Mile markers can seem a long way apart, especially towards the end of a race, so you can imagine how 3 miles must feel.  It was also a 2 lap race, which some people don’t like, but I’ve run a few in my time and I don’t mind them at all.  My only concern was for those all-too-far-apart 25k, 30k, 35k and 40k markers, which were not shown on the route map. (I needn’t have worried, as they were there).

There were also 10k and Half marathon races.  The 10k set off 10 minutes before the marathon and followed a completely different route.  But bizarrely, the Half marathon, which covered the same course, set off 10 minutes after.  This meant that 25 minutes into the race, there was a stream of runners zooming passed (hopefully all half-marathoners).  Gradually this would diminish as we neared the half way point (i.e. the end of their race) and I’m still not sure if they were a hindrance, by occasionally cutting me up, or a help, by pulling me along.

So, to the race itself…
I set off at what felt like a ‘good’, though maybe slightly quick, pace.  At the 5k (3.1 mile) marker, my watch confirmed that, at 26 minutes, I was going too fast.  I needed to average 5m 40s per k (or better) to achieve my sub-4 hour target, so this 5m 12s per k was waaay too fast.  So I eased back a bit, but still found that I went through the next 2 checkpoints in 27 minutes each, reaching the 15k (9.3 mile) marker in exactly 80 minutes.  Again, I knew this was too fast, but I felt ok, and I was hoping to get a few minutes ‘in the bag’ for when I would inevitably slow down towards the end.  Indeed my plan/hope was that I would get to a point later in the race where I could divide the time remaining by the distance left and be able to ‘get home’ running at 6m per k.  (This bit of math(s) is far easier than trying to divide, say, 3h 12m by 35*).

I completely missed the 20k marker, but the clock said 1h 52 or 53m as I went back across the start line to start my second lap.  This would have been a respectable Half marathon time, but I knew I had to press on.   Once passed half way, I knew what was coming up of course and I was mentally targetting key points along the route, the 25k marker, the turn at the far end, the bridge across the river and, finally the 35k marker… I stopped at every ‘5k’ drinks station – sometimes twice as the route doubled back passed the same points.  This was a blessing as, despite my best efforts to stay in the shade, the temperature continued to rise.

A lot of the second half is a blur in terms of my times, though I recall thinking that I was still doing around 28 mins per 5k (i.e. on schedule).  I definitely went through bad patches at 27k; then at the far end of the course, where the road climbed to its highest point; also at around 32k, where there was no shade for about 2k, then finally just before 35k…

*35k was a defining moment, as it was there that I could work out how long I had left to do that remaining 7.2k (4.5 miles).  My watch said 3h 12m – so, 48 mins left.  I was allowing myself a good 2 minutes for the “.2” (200 metres) so, even at that stage of the race, I could work out that 7k times 6 mins per k was 42 mins – i.e. a lot less than 46 !  (As I type, it’s easy to see that this was 4 minutes ‘in hand’, but at the end of a marathon, that’s not an easy subtraction to do and ‘a lot less’ was good enough for me!)

By now though I was feeling very tired (a plod doesn’t adequately describe my movement – it was more of a controlled fall forward) and I said to Jude on the way passed, at the 37k mark, that “it will be close” (to the 4 hours).  However, I also had another checkpoint coming up at 40k. (I knew exactly where it was, as I’d seen it on my way, along the river).  I told myself that if I could just keep going, the time at that point would determine my fate.  Anything less than 14 mins left (i.e. 2×6 + 2 remember) and I’d surely fail.

I then had a slight ‘wobble’ as I went up the short rise to the embankment by the river (where I stopped for a few moments to regain my breath and composure).  However, I soon continued and went through the 40k mark with around 17 minutes to go.  And, (queue drum roll… we’ve finally got there), I finished in 3h 57m 46.5s. 🙂

My position?  Well, I was 55th of the 91 male finishers and 4th of the 5 over 60 runners.  So, no prize I’m afraid.  But, hey, we don’t run for prizes do we ?!

Sorry for the long explanation, but any marathon runners reading this will, I’m sure, understand…

The following pictures are firstly of our afternoon in Ascona, then some taken from the hotel (both on Saturday), some of the race (with thanks to Jude for those) on Sunday and lastly some of our trip yesterday (via funicular railway, gondola and sideways chairlift – well, I couldn’t have walked) up to a peak called Cimetta.  From there you can see both the lowest and highest points of Switzerland, i.e. Lake Maggiore (@193m or 633ft) and Monte Rosa/Dufourspitze (@4,634m or 15,203ft).

Pre-Race Nerves…

Every runner will have asked themselves these questions in the week leading up to a big race:  Have I done enough training ?  Am I ready ?

This coming weekend I’ll be taking on the Ascona-Locarno marathon.  Now, I’ve run (about 15) marathons before, so you’d think by now I’d know how to prepare in order to answer ‘Yes’ to both of these questions.  However, for one reason or another, (injury, holidays, the heat, lack of alternative, flat training routes, etc. etc.) the answer to the first is an emphatic NO.  Although I believe the groundwork for a good marathon time is done in the 3 to 9 months before the race, it’s the last 10 to 12 weeks where the fine tuning is done.  In my case this amounts to a total of 122k (or 76 miles), which simply isn’t enough.  The only saving grace is that 3 of my runs have been over 22k and I have done a lot of walking, so I know that I can at least get to half way.  Oh yes, and my training has been at altitude. (You can see that I’m grasping at straws here…)

I’ve contemplated ‘downgrading’ to the Half, but this wouldn’t really be a challenge.  I know I can do this distance and my time would be slow (compared to previous efforts anyway) so there would be no satisfaction in just ‘getting around’.

Instead, it becomes a question of strategy…  Pacing is everything in a marathon.  Go off too quickly and you’ll be found out at, or even before, the 18 mile (29k) mark.   Three years ago, almost to the day, I did exactly that in the Yorkshire marathon.  I’d done a lot more training for that and I had hopes of running 3h 45 mins.  But, the marathon distance gets to you.  At various points leading up to 20 miles I had pains in my right knee, then left hip, then left knee and finally right hip, which forced me to walk quite a few times in the last 6 miles.  I finished in my worst time ever of 4h 23 mins. (I hope not to better, or should I say do worse than, this on Sunday).

I learnt from that mistake though and 6 months later, on my 60th birthday, I took on the Vienna City Marathon.  (I always thought running on your birthday, especially when you move into a new category, was a great idea…)  Again injuries affected my training in the lead up to the race, so after what was effectively only 6 weeks of good preparation, I had the more realistic (possibly still hopeful) aim of running sub-4.  This time I got the pacing absolutely right and finished really well in a time of 3h 54 mins.  (You’ll notice that marathon runners always, conveniently, forget to include the seconds !)

So to answer the second question:  Am I ready ?  The only (positive) answer to that is:
I’m as ready as I’ll ever be ! 🙂

I wanted to include some pictures, so I took a few the other day of my training route (up and down the side of the river Borgne).  It’s the only flat training route that I have and even it rises 100 metres in the 4k (2.5 miles) between Evolène and Les Haudères !

Roc Vieux (Walk 12)

The temperature gauge on the car said it was 4 degrees, as I drove up the road to Les Haudères, so I was glad I’d put on another layer before setting off.  The sun was shining and I had a good climb ahead of me, so I knew it wouldn’t be long before I warmed up.

I think this is the last of my medium to long walks on my list of 31 that I’ve posted.  If you’d like to see any of the others, just search for the word ‘Walk’ on the About page.  The higher numbered Walks are generally the harder ones.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to wish Jude’s mum, Angela, a very happy 80th birthday.  I know she reads all of my posts. :-)    However it won’t be long before I get to congratulate her personally, as she’s coming over to visit us on Friday.

Happy Birthday Dad !

I’m very proud to announce that today is my dad’s 93rd birthday !  He’s a remarkable man with many stories to tell which, thankfully, he’s still able to recount to anyone who’s prepared to listen.  So I think he deserves a mention.

Born and raised in Isleworth to the south east of London (England), my dad left school early to join the Navy.  He travelled the world by boat, including Brazil, Australia and Malta, but it wasn’t until his early 80’s he got on a plane to visit us in Switzerland.

The secret of his longevity ?  Who knows ?  He survived a heart heart attack waaaay back in 1968 and, as a result, altered his diet (for a while anyway).  Nowadays he hardly ever drinks alcohol and loves nothing better than a corn beef sandwich for his lunch.🙂

Happy birthday dad – hope you have a great day !



Malta and Gozo

For the past week or so, Jude and I have foresaken the glorious sunshine in Switzerland for a beach holiday in Gozo.  Our flights to Malta landed late in the day and returned early, so our week on Gozo was sandwiched between 2 separate nights on Malta – one in Marsaxlokk (pronounced Marsashlock) and one in the capital, Valletta.

I’m not sure why, but I’d imagined the islands to be green and fertile.  It was only when I noticed on the map they were further south than Tunis that I realised the land would be dry and barren.  Though somehow they do manage to grow grapes to make some very acceptable local wines.  The San Blas beer wasn’t too bad either !🙂

Apart from the over-crowded roads on Malta (the highest density of cars per capita in Europe I gather), our lasting impressions will be of the crystal clear blue waters, the quality of the restaurants and the many, huge churches.  The biggest, in Xewkija (pronounced Shookeeya) was only built between 1951 and 1970 and has a dome larger than St Paul’s Cathedral in London.  It has an internal diameter of 27 metres, a circumference of 85 metres and weighs 45,000 tons.  It was so big inside I couldn’t fit it into just one picture.  Also, the old church, upon whose site it now stands, was dismantled and rebuilt brick by brick inside the back of the new building.

Valetta was the highlight of Malta, with its grid of narrow streets, its history and many ancient buildings.

Art Exhibition, Windsor Castle, England

Last Saturday, Jude and I were lucky enough to be invited to the opening of an art exhibition at St George’s Chapel cloisters, inside Windsor Castle.  All the paintings on display were by a good friend of ours, Arthur Manton-Lowe.  Before he retired and took up painting, Arthur used to be a ‘bobby on the beat’ in Eton and Windsor and so has good ‘connections’ with the Castle.

Our viewing was preceded by the daily Evensong service in the Chapel and I have to say that it was a wonderful experience.  If you ever find yourself in or near Windsor at 5pm, you should attend the (free) service.  The internal architecture has to be seen to be believed and the choristers are simply amazing.

Arthur’s ‘Pilgrimage’ exhibition is open, from 10am – 4pm, until Thursday 6th October.

Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside the chapel, though I did sneak a quick photo of Arthur in the Cloisters.  So the later photographs below, of him at work and some of his paintings, were all taken in our chalet.

HandiCapRando* trip to Saillon

Before I retired, I put my name down to help with a group of Nestlé volunteers, who give up their time to take disabled people into the mountains.  They use a specially designed  ‘Joelette’, which has one wheel supporting a sort of modern sedan chair. (See pic 5 or link below).  It has a disc brake to slow the descent and a little motor to help going uphill.

The weather forecast for the afternoon of our trip (i.e. last Friday) was not good, so the route was changed to be a relatively straightforward meander through the vineyards above Saillon.

I’ve been to Saillon a few times, but I learnt so much that day from Jean-Michel, the organiser and leader of the group.  For example, I learnt that:

  1. The vineyard region is named after a guy called Farinet (1845-80), who escaped from an Italian jail and was a famous counterfeiter.  You would think that this would make him unpopular, but he became known as the Robin Hood of the Alps, because he helped the poor.  He’s now buried in Saillon and there’s a ‘Fausse Monnaie’ museum in the centre of the village in his honour.
  2. The world’s smallest registered vineyard, which has just three vines, is located above the village.  Each year famous personalities from the world of sport, art and politics, come to ceremoniously work on the vines.   (Some of their names are painted on signposts in the vineyard).

    For a long time, the vines belonged to Abbé Pierre, but he bequeathed them to the Dalai Lama, who is still the owner today.  There are hundreds of hand-written plaques placed near the vineyard with religious or spiritual messages.

    Unfortunately, due to the rain and my hands being busy holding the Joelette, I didn’t manage to capture any images of this particular area. Sorry !

*For more information on the HandiCapRando organisation please see this link (in French).


Col du Torrent to Pointe du Tsate ridge (Walk 29)

I’m glad that I’ve been in training recently as this is certainly one of the hardest walks in my list.  No wonder I’ve left it until now to publish it !

From the via ferrata car park in Evolène, it’s a direct 1,500 metre (almost 5,000 ft) climb to the Col du Torrent and from there the ridge path undulates at around 3,000 metres to the Pointe du Tsate (@3078m / 10,100 ft).   An equally steep descent via La Sage, back to the car park, makes it about 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) and 1,950m (6,400 ft) of ascent overall.

There are some things that you might expect to see on a walk such as this – cows, marmottes, maybe even the odd chamois.  But nothing could prepare me for what I saw at Béplan (@2,500m /8,200 ft) . See pics 5 and 6.  It was a surreal moment !

Swiss National Route 6 – Day 4 of 4

If you’ve been following our journey over the past 3 days, you may have noticed how the weather was beginning to deteriorate, especially at the end of Day 3.   It continued to rain overnight and for most of the next day.  So we cut short our proposed route via the Aiguilles Rouges hut and went directly down to Arolla, where Jude picked us up.

Pete was so thrilled with Day 4, he sent me this email afterwards to thank me:
So then, Day 4. After an easy-peasy 3 days (especially Day 3 ha! ha! ha!) my pals decide to take pity on their mate who has wun lung, wonky eyes, VERTIGO and previous operations on both knees, one foot (in two places I may add), one wrist, both eyes and heart. Did I mention the VERTIGO? So, they say, as it’s raining it will make that nice glacier even more slippery than usual. Great! We’ll show him a nice pleasant crevasse in the glacier on the way that leads to oblivion with one slip. Then, when he’s nearly made it across we’ll make him cross the river and tell him a bloke died there just last year by falling in and being sucked under the glacier. He’ll love that!And then, when if he does make it safely across we’ll make him climb up loads of slippery boulders and, if he survives that,  he’ll face a lovely sheer drop, with a dinky-winky chain to hold on to, the wuss. I mean what’s his problem? (SORRY, DID I MENTION VERTIGO?) And then we’ll make him climb a series of perfectly-safe ladders up a sheer rock-face in the rain with oblivion below. Oh yes and one of us will casually mention that “it’s a long way down” from above just as he’s half way up one section (that, after all, is clearly what he’ll want to hear if he suffers from VERTIGO, the wuss!). And that same one of us will then say “blimey it’s slippery” when he’s a bit further up. That’ll cheer him up!

For pictures of what it should have looked like, see my post from last year (where you will also read that I acknowledge Pete’s vertigo, but still took no notice.  He wouldn’t have it any other way. :-)